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Montana Schools Could Reopen, But Some Opt To Continue Remotely

Sentinel High School in Missoula, Montana.
Clare Menahan
Sentinel High School in Missoula, Montana.

This week, Gov. Steve Bullock is expected to outline how Montana’s schools could reopen.

Some schools are deciding to keep classes online for the remainder of the school year regardless of Bullock’s forthcoming plan, while others are waiting for the governor’s updated school closure order.

Sentinel High School in Missoula, Montana.
Credit Clare Menahan
Sentinel High School in Missoula, Montana.

When Gov. Bullock closed K-12 public school doors in mid-March, he required districts to approve remote learning plans in order to waive in-person instruction hour requirements. But school officials have questions about whether those requirements will snap back into place if Bullock lifts his school closure order this school year, potentially forcing districts to hold in-person classes.

However, within the last week, Browning, Conrad and Lockwood public schools all announced they will continue educating their students remotely for the remaining weeks of the school year.

Those districts are following guidance from the Montana Office of Public Instruction saying state law allows schools to implement remote learning plans that waive instruction hour requirements even in normal times. OPI spokesperson Dylan Klapmeier.

"If the per-pupil instruction hours were not continued to be waived for the remainder of the school year, districts would really have to take a look at the distance learning plans that they have in place and ensure that they are robust enough to meet state standards."

However, districts like Billings Public Schools say they aren’t making any decisions until they hear from the governor. Superintendent Greg Upham said as much during a Facebook Live Q&A Tuesday.

"We are at the discretion of the governor’s emergency. If I could wave a magic wand and know for the rest of the year, I’d like to know that too."

The Montana University System announced Tuesday that it has formed a task force to outline how its 45,000 students might return to campus next fall. 

Montana University System Deputy Commissioner Brock Tessman will chair the 12-member task force, which will consist of various administrators throughout the university system’s 13 campuses. The group will solicit input from board of regents members, other university staff and public health officials at the local, state and federal level.

The team is expected to address everything from student housing facilities to athletics. Work is expected to begin later this week when Gov. Steve Bullock is also expected to outline a phased approach to reopening Montana’s economy.

Gov. Bullock says his administration will move forward with a phased reopening of the state’s economy and schools after the current closure orders expire Friday at midnight.

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Aaron is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.